Bill provides enhanced education and financial resources, distinguishes Massachusetts as a national leader
Rep. Josh Cutler joined his colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass comprehensive autism legislation that will help foster independence for autistic individuals and provide their families with financial tools for long-term planning.
The bill permanently establishes a state Autism Commission and creates new programs and enhances resources for individuals, families, and education professionals. The Autism Commission will be responsible for making recommendations and monitoring the implementation of policies to improve autism care in the Commonwealth.
“I’m incredibly proud of this innovative, forward-looking bill,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop) said. “Massachusetts has become a national leader in regards to supporting those with autism, particularly through our 2010 insurance legislation, and I believe this bill is the next, crucial step to make Massachusetts the leader in caring for residents confronting autism.”
“With this legislation, we set forth a comprehensive proposal to provide additional services to individuals with disabilities,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian S. Dempsey (D – Haverhill). “By implementing these changes that require additional teacher training, extend state services, and encourage financial planning, we recognize the unique needs of residents with autism and provide them with the flexibility necessary to meet those challenges. Our focus is on increasing access to quality services that provide the best foundation of care for both children and adults with autism.”
“I am grateful to the Speaker for his strong leadership resulting in this important Autism legislation,” said Representative Garrett Bradley (D-Hingham), First Division Chair. “I am particularly pleased with the inclusion of the ABLE program, which will help to ease legitimate worries families have regarding their children’s ability to transition to more independent lives as they grow older. With similar legislation languishing in Congress, we in Massachusetts have the chance to be among the first states to take action on this vital issue.”
One provision, widely referred to as the ABLE program (Achieving a Better Life Experience), is designed to encourage and assist families with financial planning for individuals with disabilities. Modeled on a federal bill pending in Congress, the tax-advantaged savings accounts can be used to help plan for disability-related expenses, enabling parents of children with disabilities, as well as older individuals with disabilities, to pay for long- term costs. Contributions to the account grow tax-free and distributions from the account for qualified disability expenses are also tax-free. Eligible costs include expenses for education, medical and dental care, job training, housing, transportation, financial management, assistive technology, home improvements and other uses.
The legislation also ensures that as the number of students with autism increases, school districts and teachers are able to provide effective education. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) will develop a training program to help teachers educate those with autism in a manner that is individualized and allows them to stay in classrooms, if appropriate. The bill will also expand the IQ-based eligibility requirement for adult services provided by the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) so that these services can be effectively extended to those requiring care.